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Opinion: No love for Whistler Racket Club in proposed Northlands concepts

Proposed concepts for Whistler's Northlands are clean and sharp—but the absence of the Whistler Racket Club is notable
northlands-aerial- June 2022
An aerial view of the Northlands site north of Whistler Village.

Last year, Pique’s editorial team took part in a public Zoom session hosted by the Whistler Public Library.

During the Q&A portion, a participant asked us which upcoming Whistler stories had us most excited. 

I didn’t have to think long about my answer: the enhanced rezoning process for the Northlands was just getting underway, and was sure to be one of the most robust development processes in Whistler’s modern history (yes, I know—rezonings are not sexy, and I am a nerd).

But the Northlands discussion represents more than just a rezoning.

For as long as I’ve lived in Whistler, I’ve heard rumblings about the fabled “Holborn lands”—so named for the previous owner, the Holborn Group—and what they might eventually be used for.

Public engagement that took place last year related to the rezoning conjured a wide range of amateur, pie-in-the-sky proposals: a waterpark, or a bowling alley; a gun range; a parking complex (just to name a few).

This week we got our first look at a pair of site development concepts: “Northlands Village Green” and “The Boulevard” (spoiler alert: neither includes plans for an all-in-one waterpark/bowling alley/gun range emporium).

Both concepts propose a mixed-residential development that includes townhouses and low- and mid-rise housing surrounding a “central naturalized area.”

Employee housing and community and commercial uses are proposed in a “community hub” located in the southeast portion of the site.

The concepts include minimal roadways, underground parking, and connections to existing trails.

“The proposed development envisions an extension of the natural environment across the site, strengthening connection to Whistler Village, and animating the site with a mix of housing types and tenures and generous green space open to the public,” reads a report to council.

Both concepts are clean and sharp, and look like solid additions to Whistler Village. They’re also very preliminary, with much more community input to follow—including a full public hearing process.

But what the development doesn’t envision, apparently, is a future for the Whistler Racket Club (WRC)—at least not in its current form.

Nowhere in the 14-page staff report to council is the WRC mentioned, even in passing. Nor is it included in supporting documents detailing the concept proposals.

In fact, despite the longstanding nature of the WRC and its facilities, the word “tennis” appears in the documents just twice—both times in relation to potential table tennis amenities.

According to the staff report to council, Beedie has not proposed onsite recreation facilities in its concepts, and “their inclusion has only been contemplated as part of an offsite potential for amenity delivery.”

I suppose that’s not nothing, and as Mayor Jack Crompton pointed out (several times) at the June 7 council meeting, there is a long road ahead before final designs are landed on—but it’s far from a firm commitment that the WRC will continue to exist beyond the rezoning.

In a way, it feels like the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and Beedie are trying to wash their hands of a promise made more than three decades ago.

A brief history lesson: In 1988, developer Park Georgia owned the rights to the land, with the condition that it build a new tennis club complete with a stadium court, four indoor and 12 outdoor courts, and the capacity to host live televised events.

In 1993, Park Georgia built three indoor courts, seven outdoor courts and a dining facility (all currently operated by the WRC)—but those facilities were always meant to be temporary.

In 2002, the land was purchased by the Holborn Group, which in turn sold it to Beedie Developments in 2017.

When Beedie purchased the lands, it had no obligation to maintain the existing facilities once Whistler’s new Official Community Plan was adopted, and as Councillor Ralph Forsyth pointed out at the June 7 council meeting, a lot has changed in Whistler since the original promise was made in 1988, and other community needs may now take precedence in the Northlands process.

All of that considered, the complete lack of recognition for one of Whistler’s more popular community amenities—one that has seen solid growth in recent years—is notable.

But I can’t say it’s surprising. Developers are always going to go with the proposal that makes the most financial sense to them, and incorporating the current WRC’s footprint into a development plan would severely hamper the site’s potential. What does surprise me is the RMOW’s apparent attempt, through omission, to downplay the importance of the club—and what it means to its members.

The concepts are preliminary, yes, but if you only read the RMOW staff report, you wouldn’t even know there is already a very popular recreational facility on the land, which seems like a glaring oversight.

Either way, those passionate pickleballers aren’t about to pop quietly into the night.

Dozens were in attendance for the June 7 council meeting, leading to a marathon Q&A session that included some good questions. 

The Whistler Tennis Association, with the support of the Sea to Sky Pickleball Club, has also launched a petition in protest of the proposed designs (find it at change.org/SavetheWRC).

An open house for Phase 2 of the Northlands rezoning will be held at Myrtle Philip Community School on Monday, June 13 from 6 to 8 p.m.

The RMOW encourages all community members, including the WRC, to provide input on the proposed designs.

“Recreation is part of the considerations for the site and will be weighed against other community needs that could be delivered as part of this process,” a municipal spokesperson said. “The engagement will also include several Council Committees including the Recreation and Leisure Committee to provide insight specific to the recreational needs of our community.”

Follow the project at whistler.ca/northlands.